The Trumps visit Texas amid ‘epic’ rain­fall

Heavy rains con­tinue to raise wa­ter lev­els

Montreal Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - ALEX HAN­NAFORD

• Don­ald Trump headed to Texas to con­front the first ma­jor nat­u­ral dis­as­ter — and big­gest test yet — of his pres­i­dency as of­fi­cials strug­gled to man­age an un­prece­dented del­uge de­liv­ered by Hur­ri­cane Har­vey.

The mam­moth storm dropped an es­ti­mated 57 tril­lion litres of rain, bring­ing cat­a­strophic con­se­quences to Hous­ton, Amer­ica’s fourth big­gest city where 6.8 mil­lion peo­ple live.

More than 3,500 peo­ple were res­cued by po­lice, fire­fight­ers and Na­tional Guard troops as boat and he­li­copter searches con­tin­ued.

Ap­pear­ing at an emer­gency brief­ing at a fire sta­tion in nearby Cor­pus Christi, Trump, wear­ing a “USA” base­ball hat, said, “This was of epic pro­por­tions, no­body’s ever seen any­thing like this. This is a spe­cial place, a spe­cial state.”

He added, “It’s his­toric, it’s epic, but I tell you, it hap­pened in Texas and Texas can han­dle any­thing.”

Ad­dress­ing first re­spon­ders, he said, “We want to do it bet­ter than ever be­fore. We want to be looked at in five years, in 10 years from now, as this is the way to do it. I won’t say con­grat­u­la­tions. We’ll con­grat­u­late each other when it’s all fin­ished.”

Trump later climbed a fire en­gine lad­der to ad­dress a crowd and held aloft a Texan flag.

Greg Ab­bott, the Repub­li­can gover­nor of Texas, said Trump was “a cham­pion of Texas and a cham­pion of help­ing us re­build.”

Dam­age was al­ready es­ti­mated to be in the bil­lions of dol­lars and re­build­ing is ex­pected to last be­yond Trump’s cur­rent four-year term.

Around 17,000 peo­ple were in shel­ters, in­clud­ing 9,000 in a Hous­ton con­ven­tion cen­tre in­tended to hold half as many.

Hun­dreds of roads were blocked by high wa­ter, Hous­ton’s two main air­ports were shut and 6,000 prison in­mates were evac­u­ated.

The of­fi­cial death toll of 15 was ex­pected to rise.

Art Acevedo, Hous­ton’s po­lice chief, said, “I’m re­ally wor­ried about how many bodies we’re go­ing to find.”

Hous­ton Mayor Sylvester Turner con­firmed that po­lice Sgt. Steve Perez had died after he be­came trapped in his pa­trol car as he was driv­ing to work.

The Hous­ton Chron­i­cle re­ported that the 30-year of­fi­cer was head­ing to work Sun­day when he be­came trapped in high wa­ter on In­ter­state 45 in north Har­ris County and then couldn’t get him­self out of his car.

Vir­ginia Sal­divar said she lost six mem­bers of her fam­ily, in­clud­ing four sib­lings aged six to 16, as they tried to es­cape in a van.

She said the chil­dren, Daisy, Xavier, Do­minic and Devy, died along with two other adult rel­a­tives.

Hous­ton’s Of­fice for Emer­gency Man­age­ment was un­able to con­firm the pre­sumed deaths.

Peo­ple have been forced to es­cape the flood­ing in any way they can.

An­gela Sanchez, 34, said she and her hus­band floated their three chil­dren to safety in a fridge-freezer as the wa­ters reached chest height.

She said, “We ripped the door off the fridge and put the kids in it.”

Her daugh­ter Va­len­cia, 16, added, “When we fi­nally left, my sister sat in the freezer part, my brother sat in the fridge part, and I sat in the mid­dle.”

The fam­ily were forced to leave two of their dogs be­hind. Sanchez said, “We put them on high ground and dumped all the food from the fridge out next to them so they could eat.”

At the con­ven­tion cen­tre, Iashia Nelson said she had been a vic­tim of both Har­vey and Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina in 2005, after mov­ing from Louisiana to Texas. She told CNN, “It took us 15 hours to get out of there from all that wa­ter.

“There were six fam­i­lies in the house. There was a win­dow pane and I busted it with a ham­mer. I got the chil­dren out and we were on the roof. I was so scared. One girl I knew drowned and she left be­hind two ba­bies. It brought back all the me­mories (of Ka­t­rina).”

The Ca­jun navy, a grass­roots group formed after Ka­t­rina, used their boats to res­cue peo­ple in Hous­ton.

Flint The­riot, of the group, de­scribed res­cu­ing a fam­ily in­clud­ing a three-day old baby. “The rain was fill­ing our boats out so hard we couldn’t bail them out. It was rough. Peo­ple were get­ting re­ally des­per­ate,” he said.

A Pen­tagon of­fi­cial said the mil­i­tary’s con­tri­bu­tion to Har­vey res­cue and re­cov­ery ef­forts could soon in­crease by ten­fold or more.

Air Force Maj. Gen. James Witham told re­porters Tues­day that there were cur­rently about 3,500 Na­tional Guard troops in­volved, in­clud­ing about 3,000 from the Texas Na­tional Guard. He es­ti­mated that the Texas guard num­ber could rise to 8,000 to 10,000 in com­ing days, pos­si­bly joined by 20,000 to 30,000 from other states.

Some ar­eas have been hit with more than 120 cm of rain, and more is ex­pected.

Har­vey has al­ready set a new con­ti­nen­tal U.S. record for rain­fall from a trop­i­cal sys­tem. A weather sta­tion south­east of Hous­ton re­ported 125.27 cm of rain as of Tues­day morn­ing, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice. That broke the pre­vi­ous record of 122 cm set in 1978 in Me­d­ina, Tex., by Trop­i­cal Storm Amelia.

Two reser­voirs near Hous­ton were be­gin­ning to overflow. Wa­ter was re­leased to al­le­vi­ate pres­sure on dams, which added to flood­ing.

DAVID J. PHILLIP / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Neigh­bour­hoods in Hous­ton sit un­der­wa­ter as a record-break­ing 125 cen­time­tres of rain fell from Trop­i­cal Storm Har­vey as of early Tues­day.

EVAN VUCCI / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, with first lady Me­la­nia, holds up a Texas flag after meet­ing sup­port­ers in Cor­pus Christi on Tues­day. his first visit to the state since the storm hit.

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